Three theological groups in Europe resulted in three influential denominations in early America. John Calvin, one of the early Reformers, taught primarily in Switzerland. But churches that followed his writings and those of whom closely associated themselves with him soon developed throughout Northern Europe.
In England and later New England those who regarded themselves as true Calvinists were called Congregationalists, perhaps better known as Puritans. In Scotland, they called themselves Presbyterians. In France, they were known as Huguenots. But in Holland, Germany, Hungary, Poland and others, they were referred to as the Reformed Church.
Reformed Churches practiced presbyterian rule in Church government, that is, they were ruled by a group of Church members known as Elders, or "presbuteros" in the language of the New Testament. Their doctrines were derived from the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618).
Upon arrival in the New World German Reform members started what would eventually become the United Church of Christ. Dutch immigrants began the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. Reformed members from Hungary founded the Free Magyar Reformed Church in America.
The earliest Reformed groups came from Germany into Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. Due to the frontier nature of the colony at the time there were often no ministers to serve the people. By 1793 the German Reformed Church had been established to directly oversee its 178 congregations. Later, the word German was dropped and the Reformed Church in the United States was born.
In England and later New England those who regarded themselves as true Calvinists were called Congregationalists, perhaps better known as Puritans.
The Dutch groups who migrated to America were loosely organized into the Reformed Church in America and were scattered widely throughout the upper Hudson River area around modern day Albany, New York. By 1664, New Amsterdam (New York) had Dutch Reformed churches in Albany, Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey and elsewhere.
Later, those coming from the Netherlands in the 1800s settled in Michigan (Holland) and Iowa.
Only baptism, adult or infant, usually by sprinkling and the Lord´s Supper are required practices in Reformed Churches. Scripture, along with other historical Christian documents mentioned earlier, are the principle guides for life.
Within the local Church, the governing body is called the Council made up of Elders, deacons and ministers. A classis consists of several churches within a geographical area guided by Elders and ministers. These are further organized into regional synods and ultimately, into the General Synod that meets annually.
Groups following the Reformed tradition in the United States include the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Hungarian Reformed Church in America, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, Reformed Church in America, Reformed Church in the United States and others.
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